How Long Does it Take to Create a Fullcast Audiobook?

On 3/23/14, I finished the audio for the 5th and final book in my Guild of the Cowry Catchers series. This fullcast recording includes 41 voice actors (counting me as narrator), close to 100 pieces of music, numerous sound effects and ambient noises, and over a thousand hours of production time on my part. I began this enormous project five and a half years ago at the end of 2008/beginning of 2009.

Every single one of the voice actors stuck with me through five and a half years of production. I did not have to recast any major parts. I knew it would be a lot of work, and it certainly was, but I'm tremendously proud of the results.

However, if I ever do something like this again, I will hire someone else to do at least part of the production, and I will probably do a kickstarter first to pay for at least part of it upfront and to gauge audience interest. Fullcast audiobooks are just too involved and expensive to do on spec very often. With this in mind, I carefully tracked my production time on the 5th book. I wanted to know how much time it really took to produce one of these things so that I could know how much I need to reasonably pay someone else to do parts of it. These numbers may be useful to other producers for obvious reasons.

I tracked only my own time as narrator and producer. Here then are my numbers:

Total Word Count for the Book: 70,000

Actual Audio Time Without Intros or Outros: 450 minutes (7 hours, 30 min)

21 hours, 52 min - Recording Narration (2.9 min per finished min)

28 hours, 28 min - Marking Lines/ Communicating with Voice Actors (3.8 min per finished min)

123 hours, 40 min - Voice Track (16.5 min per finished min)

62 hours, 50 min - Scoring (8.4 min per finished min)

22 hours, 30 min - Final Pass Edit/Outros/tags/Conversion/Show Notes/Art (3 min per finished min)

259 hours, 20 min - Total Production Time (34.6 min per finished min)

If you are considering hiring another person for, say, the voice track, then the breakdown will be useful. Obviously, that last number is the most important for someone who is considering producing fullcast audio all by themselves. However, it's also misleading. Here are things that I did not have to do for this book:

--learn how to narrate

--learn sound equipment

--find and test a sound-prouf environment

--learn audio editing software

--develop a library of music and sound effects

--cast major voice actors

--get to know my voice actors, their strengths and weaknesses

Time that I didn't include, but may be required if you're the author and you podcast it:

--social media to promote your book

--managing forums or wikis

--managing and trouble-shooting RSS feeds and websites

--tweaking and reformatting for sales channels

Since this was the 5th book in a fullcast series, I was working in an establish narration style with known equipment in a tested environment. I knew all of my audio editing software inside and out. I was working with voice actors I'd known for a long time (with a couple of small exceptions). At this point in my audio editing career, I have a large library of music and sound effects. I have chosen a limited pallet of musical artists for Cowry Catchers in order to maintain a specific sound. I always check for new albums from those artists and always end up using a dozen or so new pieces in each book, but I spent a lot more time searching for music and sound effects in the early books.

I am often asked at conventions how long it takes to create a fullcast audio book. I tell newbies to budget 1 hour per finished minute of audio. Audio will be roughly 1 hour per 10,000 words.

I still stand by that advice. If you are brand new to recording books, it will take you that long at the beginning. I am certain that I have spent at least 1500 hours on the entire Cowry Catcher series, especially if you count things like building the website, trouble-shooting the RSS feeds, sound-proofing rooms, managing the forums, etc.

If you're new to fullcast audio, you should budget 60 minutes per finished minute. However, at this point, 5 books in, it's taking me 34.6 minutes per finished minute. If you hire someone for a new book, it's going to take them a little more time than that, because they'll have to establish voice actors and a specific sound for the book. However, I don't think any professional should take longer than 40 minutes per finished minute. I think that's a very reasonable time expectation for a pro doing fullcast audio, even if he/she is starting from scratch with a brand new property.

If you're a producer or an author who is considering being a producer, I hope those numbers are useful to you. If you're enjoying Cowry Catchers, awesome!! Many people worked hard to bring it to you. Episode 11 of Book 5 goes live tomorrow. It will finish with 13 episodes on April 11. There's an epilogue and outtakes on April 18, and I'll probably put a few other little things in the feed before the end of the year.

I am in the process of paying all the voice actors. I have licensed all the music I used. I am going through the series now doing a little remastering and clean-up. That will probably take me a month, and then I bet it takes Audible another month to do QC. After that, the complete series should be on sale as a single download in all the usual audio places.

It's been an amazing voyage.

Edit 4/7/16: If you found this post useful, you might also enjoy the related post from about a year earlier, What Does it Really Cost to Create a Fullcast Audio Book?